The other day I got an email from my editor telling me that the sales department didn’t much care for the title of the novel I’d just turned in. I called him back and asked him what the problem was. The sales types’ reaction was simple. The title was too much like that of a previous book of mine. Now… the two titles only shared one word, and there was a similarity and synonymy between the last word of the old title and the first word of the new title. Upon reflection, I could see their problem and went to work coming up with an alternative title — which I did and which both editor and sales types accepted as “much better.”

Except…artistically, the title wasn’t much “better.” It will certainly be commercially better, and it won’t confuse book sellers and book buyers, and I’ll definitely be better off in so far as those concerns translate into higher sales.

Even though titles cannot be copyrighted, using the exact same title as a previously published book usually isn’t a good idea, for multiple reasons, but I did it once, unknowingly, with the Recluce book Colors of Chaos, only to find out, years later, that Bob Vardeman had published a book with the same title eleven years earlier. It didn’t seem to hurt my sales, and I hope it didn’t hurt his.

Besides avoiding being a copycat, there are more than a few reasons why the title brainchildren of authors may be changed. One, interestingly enough, is that certain terms can be trademarked, and in most cases, that trademark cannot be used without the consent of the trademark holder. At least one New York Times bestselling author has been required to change a title for that reason.

Another reason is length. No matter how perfect the title, it has to fit on the cover of the book, and preferably in a type size large enough to be readable from a distance. Some art directors are not terribly fond of the word “the” to begin a title, because they think it takes up unnecessary space without adding to the clarity of the title in the slightest. And, frankly, some of my titles, in retrospect, probably didn’t need the article. Some did. And at least one is far better without the article.

The original title of Archform:Beauty was Beauty5. Why was it changed? First, because the sales computers couldn’t handle exponents, and second, because sales types kept asking where the first four “Beauty” books were. Yes… that’s right. They apparently don’t teach exponents in sales.

And of course, sometimes a title is just plain bad for any one of a number of reasons. It may make perfect sense to the author, but not to anyone else, or it may be culturally limited. The original title of The Green Progression was the Russian word for “green.” That made sense to us, but not to anyone else. Unfortunately, even the title change didn’t help sales much. On the other hand, “Recluce” doesn’t translate into Swedish, not with the overtones the word has in English, and finally the Swedish translators — through the efforts of a Swedish acquaintance of mine, for whose perspicacity I am most grateful — changed “Recluce” to “Sarland.” I’m told this makes much better reading in Swedish, and I have to take their word for it, but since the Swedish publisher is still acquiring Recluce books, the sales evidence would seem to support that conclusion.

Now… I’ve had generally good experiences with Tor with regard to titles, but I understand other authors have not had entirely sanguine results with their publishers over titles, and I occasionally see titles on the shelves… and shudder, but that’s another matter entirely, since I’m clearly antiquarian in my thinking that titles should exhibit some modicum of taste… whether the title refers to a cookbook or a vampire novel.